White Christian Fear of Racism
I’ve hit a conundrum I can’t understand. I’ve been Christian since the moment my mother hit her knees and, against every fiber in her being, gave up her motherly control over me to have me baptized as “God’s own forever.” As such, I know sin as separation of God. I also know the good news that repentance leads to return and redemption. With all this under my belt, I don’t understand white Christian fear of racism.
Mention racism and what we white Christians do is run into a barb-wired, “do not touch” area. No, we will not examine that plank in our eye, much less try to remove it. Talking about racism makes us uncomfortable, and we don’t want to be made uncomfortable. I mean, of course we make ourselves uncomfortable all the damn time—”we bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” But not with racism. It’s off limits.
Fear of Racism
White Christians know the generational horrors of racism. We surely believe racism exists and is a sin. So why do we refuse to talk about it? Because we believe it has nothing to do with us? I get that reaction. What I don’t get is the outrage when anyone suggests we at least examine that conclusion. Our spiritual leaders ask us to probe our hearts ALL THE TIME to see where we’ve strayed from the path God wants for us. But just mention racism and see what happens. Faces harden. Cheeks redden. Heads turn away and shoes slap the floor as they walk out the door.
Something is making this particular sin off-limits to the white church. Maybe it’s fear of giving up the fruits of racism. Or the deep insult we feel being called racist. Or hearing in the very question a criticism of huge efforts we’ve made in our past to respect and get along. But when we give into our white Christian fear of racism and turn away, we rob our souls.
Christian Fear of Racism and Our Souls
I’ve lived my life believing in the “compartmentalized” way. Those who have come before us were geniuses like Thomas Jefferson and, unfortunately, they were racists. Or, they were great writers like Flannery O’Connor and, unfortunately, also racist (go back and re-read “Everything that Rises Must Converge” with her racism in mind—you’ll experience it in a totally different way, I promise.) We tell ourselves we can safely lock their—our—racism into a box and not consider it. That their racism—our racism—has nothing to do with our souls.
But after reading all these books about white Christianity—Be the Bridge. Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Domination in the US. White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The Church Cracked Open. Fierce Love. The Color of Compromise. Resurrection Hope—I have come to believe racism blocks our relationship with God. Racism warps our paths taken, and too many of those paths lead to dead ends in a maze. Until we address our racism, we cannot begin to walk the path to spiritual maturity.
God and Fear of Racism
Racism lets us lie to ourselves. It tells us we’re so much smarter than we are. It tells us we’ve achieved what we’ve achieved all on our own, when, in truth, we’ve ridden the system and artificially restricted the competition down to other white folks. Racism supports our ego and ego is the biggest obstacle to closeness to God. Power, privilege, judging others, treating our neighbor as ourselves—these are big-ass Christian tenets. Leaving them unexamined, refusing to even engage with the question, keeps us from wrestling into our better selves.
In some ways I understand white Christian fear of racism. It’s not an easy road. Partly because we’ve built up racism as such a bugaboo. Partly because we instinctively know that once we head down this path, we’ll be asked to change. But isn’t walking with God always change? An actually desired change? Or does that desire apply in all areas except racism? If we’re told there’s one big area that gives us a huge opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God, why don’t we dive into that truth like weary travelers into a cool green lake? t’s a conundrum I cannot get to make sense.